25 February 2005

Facing the incomprehensible: Lessons from Kafka's Trial

Kafka's The Trial is required reading at high school level in most societies, perhaps because Eng. Lit. teachers have found this the perfect text to confound their rebellious and angsty students.

Most readers, however, will go through lengths to insist that the character of Joseph K is so inaccessible they cannot empathise with his predicament. The entire book is incomprehensible, they say.

It's not too difficult to describe what occurs in Kafka's dark novella: a man is caught up in a legal prosecution, in which no one knows the precise charges against him, no one knows how the process should go, and no one knows for certain how it will end (if at all). But Joseph K's life is put on hold forever and he'll never know why, who, how, what, when and how...

The characters populating K's world have no idea either, but they are possessed by their confidence of the System: there's this big bureaucracy whose rules we don't know, but it's a coherent system (never mind we don't know HOW exactly it's coherent) and justice should be done because the system is fair.

Most literary critics adopt a similar view as well. Kafka CANNOT be saying that life is meaningless or absurd. He can't be saying that the state is corrupt, or by extension, "everything is meaningless". Hence the story is really about sin and redemption, nevermind that the judicial system described by Kafka is completely corrupt and obtuse. The Trial is actually a warming parable about God's forgiveness.

Stupid? Blinkered?

But how many people will want to consider that things don't happen for a reason, that there's no sense of morality in the world?

(Incidentally, this is why the problem of evil will be very easily solved by people of faith)

I wrote a post about a very strange interview experience few days ago. It was incomprehensible.

But like readers of Kafka, people will jump to the defense of the system (most notably my dad. Not meant to describe anyone who replied to my previous post). Maybe it was a weird psychological test, a breeching experiment. No, it CAN'T be that the company is run by nutcases or sadists. There HAS to be a good reason and purpose to what they were doing. It's not a bad company. The chairman, no matter that I don't know who he is, is a good man.

People of faith, arise!

I'm willing to play along, of course.

A. This was not a test, they were really being rude.
In which case, it doesn't matter... This is the kind of company that might just abuse you for really low pay if they give you the contract.

B. This was a test.
I'm willing to accept this possibility. But I'm willing to ask more questions into this, such as:

What kind of companies resort to these type of tests during hiring? Not every company deviates from the usual job interview. If some companies 'test' their applicants, it usually isn't to this extent of incivility.

But. Back to this: that a company is willing to resort to such incivility during a job interview, what does it show about the corporate culture?

Presumably, if the applicant overturns and rejects the experiment by refusing to play along (i.e. protests during the interview itself about the bad treatment), the company may just fall back to a "well, this was a test. Of course you understand this is just a test, and it looks like you don't have enough humour/wisdom to tolerate..."

In which case, the company wants to have eat its cake and have it at the same time. It's very convenient to say "you can't take a joke", because it protects them from the accusation that they meant to do it, that part of them relished in behaving badly anyway.

Now, this tells more about the culture within the company more than what I would want to know, so I'm ending this post.

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